The ‘persona’ of the island is a perfect match for Ingmar Bergman
Just as the more devout Leonard Cohen fans love to travel to the Greek island of Hydra to see where the Canadian had a home (see our trip to Pandemic No. 1), so admirers of Ingmar Bergman’s films can enjoy a pilgrimage similar to he venture into Beloved Fårö, the Swedish island where he lived and worked for more than 40 years and where he shot some of his great works.
Fårö is not easy to get to. Fly to Stockholm and take a 40-minute flight or 3-hour ferry to Visby, Gotland. Rent a car in Visby and drive to Fårösund on the northern tip of Gotland, which takes about an hour. There you can board the free ferry that goes to Fårö, where there is plenty of accommodation, although it is busy in the summer.
A good starting point is the Bergman Center, which is dedicated to the world famous and legendary Swedish film director and writer and offers seminars, films, shows, a creative workshop, a café and guided tours such as the Bergman Safari. Guides follow in the author’s footsteps and visit film locations.
Every year at week 26, the center hosts Bergman Week, which this year runs from June 29th to July 3rd. It is the 17th year in a row that the celebration has taken place on Fårö. The theme of the 2021 edition is “Remaking Bergman,” when invited guests, panelists, and faculty members discuss the wave of remakes of his films that will follow after the anticipated HBO series “Scenes from a Marriage,” the first regular remake of an Ingmar Bergman Films.
The Swede wrote and directed this six-part Swedish television series from 1973 about a falling apart marriage to Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson. The series was then merged into a cinema-friendly three-hour film for its American release in 1974. Bergman based the saga on his own experiences, including his longstanding relationship with muse and partner Ullmann, with whom he was married from 1965 to 1970. HBO’s remake, directed by Hagai Levi, an Israeli, is slated for release this year. Will Fårö fans approve of this American adaptation?
The Bergman Center advises that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, all necessary precautions will be taken for Celebration Week and current restrictions will be respected. Parts of the program take place outdoors around the island or in bespoke tents next to the center. A limited part of the program will be accessible digitally.
The center has a permanent exhibition entitled “Ingmar Bergman’s film landscape”, which takes visitors on a “journey through Bergman’s rare and special connection with Fårö over 40 years of his life and work on the island”.
Bergman first arrived at Fårö in the Baltic Sea south of Stockholm in the mid-1960s. Only 113 square kilometers in size, it looks like it has broken off the northern tip of the adjacent and larger island of Gotland and is ready to float into the sea. Bergman was looking for places for his bleak existentialist “Through a Glass Darkly”.
He immediately loved the place and felt that he had found his real home. The rugged, stormy ambience fits perfectly with his vision, which often deals with death, illness, faith, betrayal, desolation and insanity. Fårö has strange seasons, gray light during the day and northern lights in the middle of the night and barren winters with no color. It is isolated and at the time non-Swedish citizens were banned because it had a top-secret Swedish military base.
The land is flat and green. It’s windswept, raw and elemental, rocky on the western edge, soft and sandy on the east coast, with black and white cows grazing in lush meadows along the Baltic Sea. There are dense, weather-beaten forests of gnarled and bent pines. The famous shore of Langhammars has a rocky beach with massive stone monoliths that date back several ice ages. The mystical beach served as the backdrop for the story of a young woman’s descent into schizophrenia in “Through a Glass Darkly”.
In a revelation, Bergman told his cameraman Sven Nykvist that he would soon buy a house on the island and make more films there. One day he would move to Fårö permanently. And he wanted to die there.
The promises were kept. While filming “Persona” he discovered a piece of land on which he could buy and build a house. He stayed there as often as his Stockholm duties would allow until he sold his apartment in the capital in 2003 and moved permanently to Fårö.
With “Through a Glass Darkly” he made six of his strict and harrowing films on the island, including “Persona”, “The Passion of Anna” and “Shame” as well as the miniseries “Scenes from a Marriage” and two documentaries on the island itself , “Fårö Document” and “Fårö Document 1979”.
The island almost became a character in his world famous films. The barren, stony landscape framed by the Baltic Sea has often been viewed as a metaphor for some of the inner emotional states of his characters.
Visitors can find Bergman’s house and, a few kilometers away, the old barn that has been converted into his private screening room, equipped for 16mm and 35mm screenings and with an on-demand projector. He went there almost every day in his red truck for two movies at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The island has no cinema.
Three of his groundbreaking films received an Oscar for best foreign language film: “The Virgin Spring”, “Through a Glass Darkly” and “Fanny and Alexander”. When enthusiasts went to the island to find Bergman, residents protected his privacy by pretending they didn’t know where he lived. He had a sign on his gate, “Beware of Killer Dog,” but he only had one tiny dog.
After five marriages, he ended up living alone, died in July 2007 at the age of 89 in his Fårö bed and is buried in the cemetery of the only church on the island. The islanders kept the secret of his funeral from the press until the grave was excavated the night before. Bergman, often furiously skeptical of God, was apparently worshiped and buried in a private location in Fårö Church far from other graves. His resting place is shared with his last wife, the non-actress Ingrid Bergman. She had died before him, but her body was exhumed and taken there.
After his death, the director envisioned his home as an extension and extension of his own artistic activities, as a meeting place for people who work with music, film, photography, theater and literature. The Bergman Estate on Fårö consists of four houses and a cinema and invites artists, scientists, non-fiction authors and journalists from all over the world to come and work. The next regular call for applicants is planned for October 1, 2021.
Bergman’s house has been preserved in its original state except for the notes on his bedside table. A Norwegian millionaire bought Bergman’s furniture and belongings at a Stockholm auction and gave them back to Fårö as a donation. The setting aims to encourage contemplative and creative work – just as it has inspired Bergman’s own artistic activities for over 40 years.
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